Wednesday, 11 July 2012

North Berwick

Mason's mark, North Berwick steading, carved on stone set on corner of ochre- coloured wall, as in Pompeii.

I first came to North Berwick in 1950, 62 years ago. I was the same age as my eldest grandson, Harry, is now. I was given a set of left-handed golf clubs and had my first golf lessons with Andrew Peacock, the pro at the golf club here. Sadly, I remember nothing of that visit although I seem to remember the clubs lingered on for quite a while after that visit until they disappeared into another left-hander's possession. We are staying on an arable farm just behind Dirleton, between Gullane and North Berwick. If I walk out of the door and a little way along the farm track, I can see the exotic cone of North Berwick law sitting beyond the field of ripening barley. The house we are renting is like a top of the range roman villa,made out of some old steadings. All along the south side of the house runs a wide sloping corridor with glass walls, beyond which there is an atrium featuring a shallow amphitheatre, where we could put on a Greek tragedy if the mood takes us, a low wall and beyond that, the lawn of an enclosed garden with wide herbaceous borders, box-lined paths, espaliered fruit trees and enormous clumps of common kitchen herbs such as mint and rosemary. This miraculous shangri-la is situated through the farm yard and along an unmade track. We have none of us ever stayed in such a wonderful place, which came about through chance: we had rented a property near the beach at North Berwick, but on the day before we were due to leave on holiday, we had a call from the agent to say the place was uninhabitable because the drains had failed spectacularly. Not only were they blocked, but an attempt to clear them had blown jet black foul-smelling material back into the house, even as far as upstairs through the sink of the upstairs flat. 'We can offer you a nicer property' the agent said 'It's not right on the beach, but it's nearly brand new. Our heart sank when we looked at the photograph which made it look like something run up by a spec builder for an executive estate in Surrey. But with three young children, three adults and an elderly dog all longing for sea air and (to be honest) a call to Center Parcs had confirmed that all they could offer anywhere in the UK was four days in the week beginning July 23 - there was nothing for it. 'We'll take it' we said and made vows to each other that whatever it was like we would put our best holiday feet forward and make it fun. Our roman villa has underfloor heating, immense quantities of red hot water day and night, power showers, a hot tub, wi-fi, and one of those TV screens in the kitchen like a home cinema. Well - it is a HD home cinema. Unbelievable. So far we have managed only to set off the sophisticated smoke alarm system once (I was grilling bacon) and I had to ring the farmer to discover how to open the window in the roof of my bedroom (via the remote next to the one for my TV, of course). We may stay here, for the next 400 years, until a messenger arrives from Rome to say the vandals are at the gates.

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